LE POIS, Antoine.


LE POIS, Antoine. Discours sur les medalles et gravevres antiques, principalment Romaines.

Paris, Mamert Patisson, 1579


FIRST EDITION. 4to. Ff. (viii) 147 (xxiii). Roman letter, some Italic, ruled in red. Tp woodcut printer’s device, handsome full page woodcut portrait of Le Pois on next leaf, floriated woodcut head pieces and initials. Four full page uncensored woodcuts of Mercury, Priapus, Pomona and Hermaphrodite. 20 full page engravings with six coins to each page. Loose note C19 with bibl.  description, Latin conjugation ms to head of tp, red stamp of L’Abbé de Vertot to outer margin. Light age browning, light marginal water stain to lower outer corner of final leaves of plates. A very good clean copy with generous margins in very fine C18 French red morocco, triple ruled gilt edges, spine gilt, most probably by Derome.

Handsomely bound first edition of this important book on Renaissance numismatics by the renowned physician and scholar Antoine Le Pois (1525-1578). It contains numerous exquisite chisel engravings depicting rare and exceptional Roman coinage including the prized Eid Mar denarius of Brutus and other Republican and Imperial pieces, signed with the Woeriot monogram. This work is significant in retaining an unspoiled image of Priapus complete with his appendage, as affirmed by Debure: “Il est difficile d’en trouver des exemplaires bien complet. Il faut, sur-tout, avoir attention à la figure d’un PRIAPE (…), parceque cette figure a été souvent gâtée, ou même supprimée entierement par des personnes à qui elle avoit paru trop indécente” (Debure, Bibliographie instructive, II, 1768, p. 322). Priapus was a Roman fertility god who is identified by his ithyphallic genitalia. Interest in Priapus both as a source of amusement and a protective figure against evil led to him being popularised well into the medieval period and the Renaissance. As well as Priapus, the mischievous messenger god Hermes, the goddess of fruitful abundance Pomona and the dual-gendered god Hermaphrodite are portrayed. All these deities are interconnected and have connotations of fertility, eroticism and playfulness.

Numismatics, the study of coins and currency, developed as a discipline in the Early Renaissance, though even in Roman times Augustus is recorded by Suetonius as giving older and foreign coinage as gifts during the Saturnalia. Petrarch is credited as the first Renaissance collector, and the first book on numismatics, De Asse et Partibus, was published in 1514 by the French scholar and humanist Guillaume Budé. During this time the collecting of ancient coinage was reserved for nobility and royalty; early collectors including Pope Boniface VIII, Louis XIV and Henry IV of France. This work therefore is tailored towards a wealthy, elite, and classically educated readership. Brunet III 994 calls it “Ouvrage curièux et assez recherché.”

This work was published posthumously under the supervision of the author’s brother, Nicolas. Le Pois was physician to Charles III, duc de Lorraine, the dedicatee of this work.

L’Abbé de Vertot (1655-1735) was a French clergyman and historian. He published the popular Histoire des revolutions de Suède in 1695.

Brunet III 994; BM STC F. p. 263; Adams 522; Harvard-Mortimer French Vol II 350; Renouard Estienne 482; Schrieber 254.